U.S. oil futures inched modestly higher on Thursday, after data showed that the number of people who filed for unemployment assistance in the U.S. fell more-than-expected last week.
On the New York Mercantile Exchange, West Texas Intermediate crude for delivery in February traded at USD92.45 a barrel during U.S. morning trade, up 0.15%. New York-traded oil futures held in a tight range between USD92.36 a barrel and USD92.92 a barrel.
The February contract slumped to USD92.26 a barrel on Wednesday, the lowest since November 29, before trimming losses to settle at USD92.33 a barrel, down 1.43%.
Nymex oil futures were likely to find support at USD91.79 a barrel, the low from November 27 and resistance at USD94.18 a barrel, the high from January 8.
The Labor Department said earlier that the number of people who filed for unemployment assistance last week fell by 15,000 to 330,000 from the previous week’s revised total of 345,000. Economists had expected jobless claims to decline by 10,000.
Investors now turned their attention to Fridays’ U.S. nonfarm payrolls report for indications on the timing of further reductions to the pace of the Federal Reserve’s stimulus program.
Wednesday’s minutes of the central bank’s December meeting showed that the Fed board cited a stronger labor market in its decision to cut its asset purchase program by USD10 billion to USD75 billion-a-month.
The minutes also showed that officials were keen to stress that further reductions were not on a “preset course” and would be undertaken in “measured” steps.
Meanwhile, in the euro zone, European Central Bank President Mario Draghi reiterated that interest rates will remain at their present or lower levels until conditions improve, indicating that further rate cuts are still possible.
Draghi’s comments came after the ECB held its benchmark interest rate at a record low 0.25%, in line with expectations.
Elsewhere, on the ICE Futures Exchange in London, Brent oil futures for February delivery inched up 0.4% to trade at USD107.58 a barrel, while the spread between the Brent and U.S. crude contracts stood at USD15.13 a barrel.
London-traded Brent prices were underpinned amid linger worries over a disruption to supplies from Libya.